HeartWork Organizing

Helping you find peace and purpose through organization and design

Home Office In a Closet March 28, 2012

I was talking to a friend about this particular transformation, and realized it had never made it to the blog, so here you go.  For those of you who work at home, you can have a super-functional and pretty office, in just about 30″ of space (deep).


how to have a home office in a closet


How to have a home office in a closet

What would you accomplish if your office was this pretty?


Saved Again by Organizing An Emergency Fund March 13, 2012

Filed under: Financial Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 2:00 pm
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How are you doing on organizing your finances?  Do you have an emergency fund?

organizing for emergencies

Yeah, you snort, that and a live-in butlerWouldn’t both be nice?

Let me share a real-life story about how an emergency fund helped one person, and how you can get your own.  If you read stories like this and think, this isn’t real life, let me tell you, this is very real life!

One of my organizing clients has been working on a few organizing goals for about the last year, while employed with a temp job.  A few months ago, she got serious about paying down debts and stashing an emergency fund.

We agreed she should quickly stash $2,000 in an emergency fund.  To do it, she re-allocated some extra money that she was sending to pay down a credit card account, she completely cut out spending $30 per week on clothes, and she paid more attention to her food and eating out expenses.

At first, she was worried that by diverting some of her cash into a savings account, she was hurting her other goal to pay down credit card debt.  However, when I explained that the next “crisis” would cause her to rack up more credit card debt without having some cash in reserve, she got on board.  Without a cash emergency fund, credit card debt will grow because there is no other alternative to tap when a crisis hits.

It only took her a matter of weeks to pad her hard-to-access savings account (not her regular savings account).  Then, the inevitable happened; her car broke down.  Here’s the email she sent to me:

“I have to tell you something.  My car needs major repairs.  It’s not driveable.  If you hadn’t advised me to start an emergency fund several months ago, I would not have had the money to get the repairs done.  At all.  I am extremely disappointed that I have to use up at least $660 of the $1650 I have saved thus far, with great effort, but one thing I am not is panicked — thanks to you.  This is exactly the type of emergency you wanted me to start the fund for, and your advice could not have been more timely.”

On the same day she sent this to me, I had just paid over $700 for four new tires.  Yes, I used my credit card at the register, but I transferred the money from my emergency account over to my credit card account when I got home.  Done.  I’ve been doing this for well over a decade, and our emergency account covers these kinds of things, so financial snags aren’t really emergencies, they are just life events. I sleep a lot better now than I did in my twenties.  Marketplace Money calls this the FU fund.  Or the “See Ya” fund.  Call it whatever you want, it is how you can get ahead, too.

To get your emergency account going, follow the same strategies that my client used:

1.  Figure out if you can divert money from other obligations, like credit cards, just for a short time.

2. Find your splurges and halt them, just for a short time.

3. Part with anything valuable but unused, and sell it on CraigsList or similar.  $50 here or there can be way more valuable than a dust-catcher lurking in your basement.

4. Take a part-time gig if needed.  Tutor, mow lawns, whatever it takes to add a few bucks to your balance.

5. Monitor necessities.  Cut back on groceries, cable, cell phone service, whatever else you might normally think is non negotiable, even just for two months.  A little here or there can get you to your $2,000 faster.

6. Stash the money in a hard-to access account, like at an online-only bank or a credit union you don’t normally visit.

Once you have your emergency built up to $2,000, then start paying down credit card debt again.  Once that’s paid off, then you can really grow your emergency fund to cover the recommended 3-9 months of living expenses, which can really come in handy.  You see, my client lost her long-term temp job a couple of weeks ago, and she’s back to searching for full time employment.  Uncomfortable?  Yes.  Crisis?  No, thanks to an emergency fund that was waiting for life to happen.

If you love these ideas, please read more over at Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace  site.

all photos:  Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


Candyless Month: SMART Goals Help Organize Smarter Snacks February 16, 2012

Filed under: General,Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 3:43 pm
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Remember when I told you I was going to try to get a handle on my candy addiction in January?  Boy, am I glad that’s over!

You might be wondering, how is this an organizing or decorating story?  Trust me, it is both.

The thing about organizing is that if you have a plan, a system, and the right tools on hand, you can be successful.  Without any of those things, well, you get more of what you’ve always gotten before.

My plan was to cut out my candy binges.  Not calories.  Not candy entirely.  Just the 3 o’clock and 8 o’clock binges.  That’s where I sit down and eat half a bag of M&M’s or an entire box of Girl Scout cookies.  My system was to have some substitute sweets on hand, including frozen fruit, oranges, Greek yogurt, and roasted vegetables. And the tools, well, that’s where you came in.  Every time I went into the pantry, I thought about this post I was eventually going to have to write, and so I thank you for being there for me.

My goals were SMART:  specific, measurable, applicable, realistic, and time-bound.  There was absolutely no reason I couldn’t be binge-free for thirty days.

Things pretty much went as planned.  Not having my daily sugar dose, some mornings I definitely woke up less sluggish.  Sugars that come from processed foods and candy really do gum up my works, which is way more noticeable than in my twenties.

Oh, and I remembered that I needed to drink more water.  Not just pour it and let it sit nearby, but actually drink it.  Osmosis isn’t a good way to get your hydration.

Then, near the end of the month, I took on a two day staging job, and my system failed.  (That’s the decorating part of the story.) I fell back on chowing through an entire bag of Skittles to get me through the job instead of taking sensible breaks for water and real food.  Skittles are so seductive, I even got my assistant hooked on them.  Sorry, Jill.  Although the Skittles.com site is one of the biggest wastes of time ever, I have to agree with the tweet/quote, “Where there are Skittles, there’s a way.”

OK, one slip is not bad.  But then I had a weak moment in the evening, which began with me reaching for a box of chocolate drizzled popcorn that I bought as a hostess gift in case I was invited to a holiday party.


Note to self:  buying candy just in case is probably a bad idea.

I struggled with this one, so close to the end of the month.  So I flipped the box and checked the stats.  10 servings in the box.  130 calories per serving.  Are you kidding me?  Stalling, I pulled out 9 plastic baggies, intending to eat just one serving.  It works for those Nabisco hundred calorie packs; it might work for me.  Here’s what one serving looked like.

Pathetic. Hardly worth the calories.

That particular night, my better nature won out.  I opted for a tub of Greek yogurt instead and saved about a gazillion calories.  ‘Cuz you know I was not just going to eat one serving of that popcorn.  You know I was going to eat the ENTIRE BOX, right?


Organizing my pantry and my thoughts help me stay on track.  I have no idea if I lost weight or not, but I can definitely say that one of my favorite shirts feels more loose.  Yeah!

So, it all ends well.  Borrowing a title from my blogger friend, Stephanie over at Intentional Girl, I’ve become a bit more intentional about my snacks.  Which is good, because candy season never really seems to end, does it?


SMART Goals in the New Year January 10, 2012

Filed under: Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 11:26 pm
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Resolutions stink.  The new year holds so much promise, I hate to think about mucking it up with resolutions that most of us break before the New Years noisemakers are put away. Franklin Covey compares how resolutions have changed over the last ten years that they’ve been tracking them.  My goal to improve my overall health is in line with the third most popular resolution.

So here’s a shocker.  This year, I’ve got a 30-day January goal, because I know I can be succesful for 30 days without setting myself up for resolution failure. I’m going to try to tame my sweet tooth, which gets really fierce at 3 pm and 8 pm.  So, no more candy and yucky carb binges at these key times.

Thirty days.  This is do-able.

The best tool I know of to help increase the chance of success is SMART.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Applicable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  Instead of a vague wish to eat healthier, here is my plan:


Eliminate afternoon and evening sugar binges.  Fruit will replace the junk.  When I just need to keep my mouth busy, I’ll pop some Trident.


This is a binary function.  I either do or don’t indulge on a daily basis.  But I’m not cutting out all sweets, just binges.  You know what I mean.  (Crud, when is Girl Scout Cookie season??? I may be in trouble already.)


I’m not trying to lose weight, although that may happen.  I’m trying to improve my health overall, even out my energy levels through the day, and improve my oral health.  Candy can be hard on your teeth.


I’ve loved sweets all my life, so I’ve got to have alternatives on hand, because a total swearing off just won’t work.  Did you read this month’s Getting It Together newsletter for my roasted vegetable recipe? Today’s pot of roasted veggies included:
white potatoes
garlic cloves
yellow pattypan squash
white button mushrooms
 Here’s what one of my readers had to say, just today:   I love reading your newsletter; you always have a good story and some timely advice.  This month you also had a wonderful recipe that I made and loved.!  I couldn’t believe how tasty the veggies were, and they required so little preparation.  Very healthy too!  Thank you for the recipe!

Time bound

A 30 day moratorium is reasonable.  I figure I can do anything for 30 days.
Experts agree that accountability also drastically improves the chances of succeeding in your goals.  So now that I’ve told a few of my favorite friends what I’m up to for the new year, it was really hard to give in and mess up today.  I ended up with just two small squares of chocolate and a handful of honey roasted peanuts, and that was mostly because I had a bad start to the day by accidentally skipping breakfast.
I hope you’ll let me know what you are up to this New Year, so we can support each other.  If you haven’t written it down, use SMART to guide your planning.

Get Organized. How Long and How Much Will It Take? January 5, 2012

Filed under: Business Organizing,Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 6:40 pm
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There are three questions everyone wants to know about my projects:

How long did it take?

Did they keep it looking fabulous after you left?

How much did it cost?

It’s the New Year, and everyone wants a fresh start, so I thought you would just love to see this little project that a client and I completed between Christmas and the New Year.  His goal was to clear out the space so he could do something with it, maybe create a much needed home office office down the road.

Knowing that paper takes the longest to organize, we contracted to go through the paper and purge unwanted furniture and items.

This is a third floor bedroom/dormer space that was already finished, but being used to store tubs of paper and household cast-offs.  This picture shows just half of it.

Organize a home office

Here’s the other half.

So how long did it take to get this organized? Remember, there are five steps to getting organized (as always, with a nod to Julie Morgenstern’s great book, Organizing From the Inside Out):

  1. Sort
  2. Purge
  3. Arrange/Analyze remaining items
  4. Containerize
  5. Establish a maintenance plan

We planned on spending about 8 hours, and we spent about two hours longer than that.  And that is only because we went shopping, bought a new desk and file cabinet, and put them together. The client got way more than he bargained for!  Here they are, on day 2, the final day of the project.

Organizing a home office

And the other side of the room. You can see the new file cabinet hiding back in the corner. Yes, the client went through all the paper that you see in the before photos, and what didn’t get shredded or recycled got divvied up into the three small but sturdy drawers. There was a lot of recycling out at the curb the next day.

Organizing a home office

And to help with containerizing, we added two bookcases,

and we reset the bookcase that was already there.

Now this office really works. And we did all of this, just the two of us, in just a few hours over two days. So that answers the first question.

Will he keep it fabulous and organized now?  Probably.  He now has places to put household papers, his own personal paper retention guidelines, and a real desire to use this space for work instead of storage.  Most of all, he has systems with the file cabinet, the bookcases that store books, and the one bookcase that holds his office and teaching supplies.

And how much did it cost?  Well, in round numbers, it was around a thousand bucks for the services and the new furniture.  My organizing projects themselves start at $350.  This guy will probably deduct all of this as a business expense.  Smart move.

He said to me, “We got more done in 4 hours than I have gotten done up here in the last 5 years.”

Aw, shucks, that’s what I love to hear!

I hope this gives you some real inspiration for your winter organizing project.

What space are you ready to tackle?


Sesame Place is the Christmas Place to Be December 1, 2011

Filed under: General,Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 11:02 pm
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Last week I published some forms I’m using to organize our family’s holiday activities this year. I wanted to make time for special times like our family outing to Sesame Place. We made it to Sesame Place’s a Very Furry Christmas opening night, and I’m thrilled we did.

The park, the only Sesame Street-themed park in the country, is a water park/dry ride attraction during the summer. This is the first year they’ve swapped slides and sprinklers for Christmas trees and twinkle lights. Our favorite characters are still there, and there are four adorable shows to see them in action. Be sure to catch the rock show, and you’ll be dancing along.

Sesame Place Christmas Show

I really love that the attraction is unapologetically a Christmas event. I learned about Kwanza and Hanukkah through some of the shows, but there were no watered down greetings or signs saying Happy Holidays. Santa makes a few appearances, but even so the whole event captured the spirit of joy and the true meaning of Christmas

My husband told me to rave about the food. We were thrilled all summer that our season passes got us 30% off at the restaurants. The food was kid friendly but tasty, fresh, and even healthy sometimes. Meal plates are generous, so we usually shared a couple of meals and a salad for the whole family. We had a full dinner for four last Friday night for just under $20.

Saving the best for last, if you go, be sure to get the kettle corn. Yum. Lightly salty, lightly sweet, another good deal at just $6 for a bag that fed all four of us all night. It’s not to be missed. Or if you can’t make it, just order it online. Ooh, this might be a problem for me.

My kids are 2 and 4, but I could see older kids, easily up to 10 years old, enjoying the park, especially for this event. Shoot, even us big girls enjoyed it. Here are some of my mom friends from the Philly Social Media Moms group. Thanks to Sherry Aikens of www.BabyPop.com the photo. That’s me all the way to the right in the big pink scarf.

bloggers at Sesame Place

We had a wonderful time ringing in the holiday season. This might be a new tradition for us. Speaking of traditions, it was a nice place to pick up a tree ornament, something we like to do wherever we vacation throughout the year. We sharpie the date on local themed ornaments, and relive happy memories when we decorate the tree.

Sesame Place Ornament

We’ve got our Sesame Place season passes for next year, thanks to the 25% off deal available to visitors to the Very Furry Christmas event. Hope to see you there.

Sesame Place Christmas Event

Disclosure: We received discounted or free tickets to attend the opening night event, but we highly recommend the season passes, available at smoking deals for everyone.


It’s Perfect Weather to Organize the Garage June 19, 2011

Filed under: Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 2:55 pm
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How long does it take to organize a garage?  One day.  No kidding.

What lurks behind those doors?

If you are dreading this rite of summer, stop fretting.  All you need is a plan.  Whether it has one, two, or three bays, one day is all a garage deserves.  Get in, get organized, and get on with your life. Here’s how.


1. Make your plan. Before moving anything, decide or discuss with your family what you need your garage to do for you.  Is parking the car in garage the goal?  Must you store trash bins, sports gear, or an extra freezer?  Do you have the right type and amount of storage and shelving?  Can you store pool gear and seasonal furniture? If your house lacks a mudroom, would your life be easier if there were lockers and a drop off point before entering the house?  Is there a high ceiling where you can add a loft for storage?  As much as possible, purchase containers and organizing gear in advance so you’ll have them on hand during the job.  If you follow my advice regularly, you might be surprised to hear me recommend that.  Unlike other organizing projects, however, it pays to have all of your items on hand before you start so you can finish a garage project in just one day. Be sure to schedule a trash container or charity pickup if you might need one.

Be sure shelving is safe and secure.


2. Meet up with the family.  I almost always have staff and multiple family members involved in a garage project.  The larger or more cluttered the space, the more people I try to have on a job.  Recruit a professional and as many family members as you can.


3.  Methodically work around the space. Start in one corner of the garage, sort by moving one item at a time out into the driveway or yard, creating piles or stacks of similar items.  Label each pile so everyone knows what it is.  I recently organized a typical two-car suburban garage, and at the midway point some Jehovah’s Witnesses came up the driveway and remarked on our apparent garage sale.  Although it may seem like a lot of work to move everything out only to move it back in, it must be done.  Only when the garage was clear could we re-position the wall hooks, fix shelving that needed repair, and move large items to better spots.  By the way, this is the hardest step for my clients.  They tend to get sidetracked with errands, phone calls, wanting to clean the garage before it is empty, and discussions about where things need to be stored inside the house.  All of these activities will sabotage your one-day plan.  When empty, assess your garage for the next step.

Piles are good, but only for a short while.


4. Move back in using zones.  Typically children’s toys and bikes should be located on the side with the least traffic or closest to the yard.  Extra appliances and food items should be stored close to the house entry.  Items that are almost never used can be stored in a loft or in the space above the garage doors (if you don’t decide to donate them). Set off each zone with color, signage, chalk boards, or labeled storage bins or shelves.  You might have categories like cleaning chemicals, paint, car maintenance gear, tools, sports gear, trash bins, brooms and mops, and gardening supplies.


Organized zones and nearly everything off the floor.

5. Make mine a mojito. Tidy up by sweeping the floor and shaking out or replacing the mat that leads into the house.  Label shelving with a label maker, masking tape and permanent marker, or hang tags from an office supply store, which work great on wire shelving.  Haul the trash to the curb.  Tarp the pile for donation.  Pull the car back in the garage.  And pour yourself a drink in celebration.


How long did your last garage organizing project take?

Now that you’ve seen this plan, do you think you can tackle yours in one day?

We’d love to know.